“With the internet, with social media, that’s really important, because your whole reputation for who you are and what you do can go away in a minute,” he said. “People smell it — somebody will find you out because that’s what people do these days.” Beal says that applies to small distilleries, especially. He compares large brands and small distilleries to boats in an ocean storm. A large brand is like a battleship that can change course to weather the waves, whereas a small distillery is more like a little boat, where a wrong turn can be deadly. “I’ve always told people in the business, ‘Tell the truth about what you do: who made it, where you got it,’” Beal continues. By building their brand on the truth, Beal says distillers don’t have to worry about being mistrusted or sued, and they attract the growing number of consumers looking for authenticity.
Get Outside and Make Some Friends Beal has been with the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) since its
inception, he spends a month each year at the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) in London, and he is the U.S. chairman for Whisky Magazine’s World Whiskies Awards (WWA). He has also been asked to judge at the American Distilling Institute (ADI), American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA), and India’s INDSPIRIT competitions this year. “I’m probably going to Australia and South Africa this year to work with various competitions there, too,” he said. “Both of those places have very thriving independent distilling communities and I’ve watched their products get better and better every year.” In order to improve their products and techniques, Beal encourages distillers to send their products to competitions to get feedback from experts outside their distillery. Each competition he participates in runs differently and is thus interpreted differently by consumers and the industry. Beal said that distillers should understand how that translates to their goals before they enter. “When they give a medal at the IWSC it’s pretty tough,” he said. “But in San Francisco you might give quite a few medals, because you might have a flight of 10 bourbons, all of which are gold medal
quality, so it isn’t so much about being the best of the best. It’s about whether it’s good juice, really.” Beal says the good competitions are all valuable in their own regard, and recommends entering your spirits into every reputable competition you can afford. “If you don’t win it doesn’t matter,” he said, explaining that the value isn’t necessarily in the medal. “It’s a great way to get a gauge on what people think.” Beal says that industry and consumer shows also offer excellent opportunities to connect with other distillers and industry professionals and get feedback on your products. He started working with Whisky Live recently, and says he’s impressed by the opportunities events like that offer to young brands. “I encourage folks to get out and be part of that — you meet a consumer that’s very open to trying new things and adopting new brands and really learning about some of the more technical aspects of whiskey or other spirits,” he said. “What smaller producers really need is consumer feedback about their products. They need to be encouraged when the public loves their product, and they need to hear what people really think, because that’s the only way progress gets made. It’s how they improve what they do and focus their marketing efforts, as well.” Beal also advises distillers to get to know their competition, make friends with other distillers, and take technical production classes — all of which will increase their knowledge base and help them grow. “How we understand what we do is based upon other people and what they do, and a great way to learn about how to tweak your distilling abilities and your nosing abilities is to hang out with other people who do the same kinds of things and learn from them,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I love the ADI is because it’s a great playground for doing that. You need to be in the company of professionals in an environment where you can give and take and talk and compare.” Aside from improving their products and skills, Beal says distillers can build their brands by participating in community events. He encourages distillers to offer
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